In Which I Keep It Together
by Sarah Gillig Sunu -- November 9th, 2012

It’s been a busy few weeks, and it’s about to get busier.

As finals loom and the holidays are coming, I’ve had to reevaluate my approach to school in order to preserve my sanity and still get things done.  Those first few weeks in September, I didn’t do a very good job of making sure I had the time to do things that are important to me, like exercise and sleep and eat food that wasn’t take out or microwaved.

My Old Freedoms

After I graduated back in 2009, I had to adjust to actually having ‘free’ time after work was over for the day. This was new; there had always been homework, and papers, and sports, and applications for things.  But now, I could do whatever I wanted. It was pretty great.

I took swing dancing classes, did all kinds of arts and crafts, baked loads of things (I even made homemade bread and yogurt weekly), spent lots of time with Steve (my husband) and our friends, and generally enjoyed my life a lot.  Sure, I had to apply to graduate schools last year, and there were some prerequisites that I needed to take to come here, but all in all, I had a fair amount of time to spend as I pleased.

Enter September, 2012.  I was very excited, and very nervous, and definitely feeling some imposter syndrome (see fellow blogger Megan Fork’s post on imposter syndrome here).  All of these things combined served to make me want to work harder to prove that I belonged and could handle graduate school.

It was ok, but more and more I found myself feeling guilty whenever I wasn’t working on something for school, and I also found that I wasn’t feeling very productive, even when I was working (I attribute some of this to what we are now calling ‘Joe Pesci Research’, thanks to Aziz Ansari’s Dangerously Delicious standup video, see relevant clip here).  So after  fall break, I decided to change some things.

Homework is important, but so is spending time with Steve and friends, and eating real food, and being outside, and getting exercise, and getting enough sleep, and having ‘down time’ to spend however I want. I decided that, instead of only scheduling obligations like classes and meetings, I was also going to schedule some of the things I enjoy and value.  I decided to approach school like a job, instead of the free-form experience of college. I went into Google Calendar and scheduled every minute on every weekday between 7:30 AM and 5:30 PM up through the end of classes this semester.

My New Approach

I had been getting Steve to drive me to school some days, and was taking the bus on others. I decided to take the bus at the same time every day, regardless of whether I had an 8:30 AM class or not.  Yay for saving carbon!  I also decided that, barring huge projects or presentations, bus time would be when I could read whatever I wanted, which made a big difference in my willingness to get up at 6:55 every morning.

Check out the built-in walks! And all the lovely blank space after 5:30!

I also decided that I would schedule a half-hour walk outside for myself every day.  It might not always happen, but I plan for it and do it as often as possible.  I also scheduled time for standing weekly meetings, lunch (where again I read whatever I want, or talk to people), studying, and blogging.

It’s made a big difference to me, knowing that I’ve set aside time to do certain things in the day.  I don’t feel guilty about watching TV with Steve once I get home, or playing board and video games, or exercising, because I’ve already put in a full day at school.

Sure, sometimes things don’t happen when I scheduled them to (I’m currently working on my master’s project proposal, so I’ve had a lot of impromptu meetings with professors about it), but knowing that I’ve got a plan to get things done helps me to not get stressed about it. I’m more productive when I’m working, and I’m more relaxed when I’m not working.

My new method might not work for everyone—it might not even work for me next semester, since I’ve signed up for 17 credits!—but if you’re getting frustrated with the amount of work you get done and how little free time you feel like you have, it’s worth a shot.

Duke Gardens on November 1st

So that’s my new approach: grad school as job, with time off, which is working pretty well for me.  I still have finals, and I still have homework due, but I also have the time to enjoy the beautiful Duke Gardens and play videogames with Steve and watch the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and read historical fiction and fantasy, which makes a huge difference to my peace of mind.

How do you manage your time?

Tides for Friday, November 9th, 2012, Beaufort, NC

High:  3:07AM, 3.28 ft.

Low:  9:20 AM, 0.55 ft.

High: 3:23 PM, 3.23 ft.

Low: 9:43 PM, 0.3 ft.

From NOAA Tide Predictions


  1. Meg
    Nov 11, 2012

    Sarah – I’m a Duke Alum – M.E.M. ’86 – and I so appreciate what you wrote. I’m in a different phase of life – just having become and empty-nester – but I am finding myself less productive with my “extra” time and am definitely going to use some of your ideas to fit in the special projects I want to be doing now.
    p.s. Enjoy your Duke days – they were some of the best of my life!

    • Sarah Gillig Sunu
      Nov 13, 2012

      Thanks Meg! I’m glad you found my post relevant. It’s really easy to schedule all the things we need to do, and forget to schedule the things we’d like to do. I hope your projects go well!

  2. Megan Fork
    Megan Fork
    Nov 15, 2012

    Good for you for scheduling your walks everyday, and for managing your time! (I sometimes find myself forgetting to manage well, and then just having a totally unproductive, burnt out recovery day.)
    I’m the same way about my exercise and outside time – I try to ride my bike to campus everyday so that I can get my exercise built-in to my schedule.
    My yogurt and bread making have also gone out the window this semester (as for hot meals – thank goodness for the crockpot and for frozen pizza!)

    • Sarah Gillig Sunu
      Nov 16, 2012

      It’s definitely a juggling act, and sometimes I’ve just got to play it by ear. Looking forward to doing some baking for our next meeting though (ahh, reading week! you are so unscheduled!) Hope your semester is wrapping up well!

  3. Christine Chen
    Nov 25, 2012

    Me too! I list finishing the homework as the priority – but so are eating normal food, exercising, and hundreds of other stuffs.

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